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USDA recalls beef at local schools

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Workers for the Shelby County public school system collected close to 130 cases of ground beef from areas schools on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the meat "unfit for human food."

The beef that was recalled locally was part of a nationwide recall of meat that was processed at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company in Chino, California. In total, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a recall of close to 37 million pounds of beef on Sunday.

On Jan. 31, the USDA issued a hold on the beef sent by the company to SCPS and other schools that had received the meat from the company while the USDA inspected the conditions at the packing company.

On Sunday, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that there is evidence that the cattle processed by Hallmark/Westland "did not receive complete and proper inspection" therefore the FSIS "determined them to be unfit for human food."

Because some animals did not receive proper inspection, on Feb. 4 the FSIS suspended the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company saying the company failed "to maintain and implement controls to prevent the inhumane handling and slaughter of animals."

Under the suspension, the company will be unable to operate until written corrective actions are submitted and verified by FSIS to ensure that animals are handled and slaughtered humanely.

The recalled beef went to the National School Lunch Program and other domestic nutrition programs nationwide. A portion of the beef was sent to Shelby County and at least 16 school districts in Kentucky. Other local counties include Anderson, Henry and Jefferson Counties.

The recalled beef arrived locally in two shipments. On Oct. 22, the district received 60 cases of beef crumbles and on Dec. 16 they received 90 cases of beef patties.

On Jan. 31, the USDA announced that the meat should be put on hold and not consumed. However, by that time, 12 cases of the beef crumbles had been made into chili and consumed at local schools. None of the 90 cases of beef patties were consumed.

No related incidents of students being sick from eating the beef have been reported.

Evell Coomer, food service coordinator, along with two maintenance workers collected the meat on Tuesday and took it to storage at the district's holding facility at Snow Hill. The district, along with the Shelby County Health Department, will take the meat to a landfill and destroy the meat on Friday.

The USDA has ordered that all beef products from Hallmark/Westland since Feb. 1, 2006, and all foods produced with Hallmark/Westland beef processed since that date be destroyed.

According to a Kentucky Department of Agriculture press release, the beef from Hallmark/Westland can be identified by the company's federal establishment number, EST 336. Products that include beef that is subject to the recall can be identified by the processing firm. Because of the incident, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company remains suspended by the FSIS.

In a press release, the FSIS said that it is "unlikely that these animals were at risk" of disease common to cattle because of the multiple layers safeguards. But it said the recall was necessary because plant procedures violated USDA regulations.